Want to Be an Employee Whisperer? It’s All in the Training.

Kristi Birkeland on Dec 20, 2016, 3:00:00 AM

If you’re a dog lover, you’ve probably put a lot of time and effort into training your furry friends. Why? Because the ROI on a well-trained, happy dog is huge. Skip out on this important step and you’ll end up with a misbehaving yappy-pants on your hands. The same is true for your employees. If you don’t invest in proper training, it could come back to bite you.

According to the American Dog Trainers Network, training is one of the most important aspects of raising a dog. Not only are well-trained dogs much happier, they also require fewer constraints. In other words: The more dependable the dog, the more freedom can be given, which makes the dog even happier, and the owner way less stressed out. It also alleviates the need to constantly micromanage behaviors.

Proper puppy training builds a solid foundation of communication, understanding, and mutual respect. It also establishes you as the leader of the pack. And if your dog doesn't respect you as his leader, he’s going to bark about it. A lot. To everyone who will listen. Do you see where we’re going here?

When it comes to training employees, there is a ton of research on how best to do so. But sometimes it’s fun to look at it from another angle. Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse to post an adorable puppy pic? So instead of hitting the business books for great leadership advice, we’re going to take look at the Top 10 Training Tips from dog whisperer Paul Owens to see how they stack up. Ready to unleash the fun? Let’s go!

Top 10 Dog Training Tips from Paul Owens

originally published in Animal Wellness Magazine.*

1.) Plan ahead.

Collect everything you and your new dog will need, including highly valued treats, a bed, collar, leash, tethers, and training clicker if you choose to use one. Create an environment that will promote success by puppy-proofing your house.

Once you’ve found and hired that perfect person, it may be tempting to sit back and relax until they start. Don’t do it. Spend some time thinking about specific tools, technology and processes your new star will need to get going in the right direction. Gather those items in advance and put together a detailed onboarding plan. Consider appointing an in-house mentor for each person that you bring on. And while you can’t employee-proof your business, you can create an environment that will promote success, both for your new hires and throughout your company. (Don’t forget the treats!)

2.) Make a behavioral wish list.

Positive training isn’t about teaching your dog to stop doing something. It’s about teaching him what you want him to do instead. If you don’t know what you want him to do, he won’t be able to figure it out either, and both of you will end up barking at one another in frustration. Proactively teach your dog exactly what he is supposed to do rather than reactively try to correct unwanted behaviors.

If only every boss understood this premise! Clear communication about desired behaviors and outcomes is key to employee success. Don’t give your new team members time to develop habits that need to be unlearned. Start them off right by laying out the job tasks, procedures and expectations. Keep communication lines open to minimize frustration on both ends.

3.) Use consistent communication.

We often inadvertently teach our dogs to do exactly what we don’t want them to do. For example, if you don’t want your dog to jump on you, don’t reinforce the jumping by occasionally petting him when he jumps. Be consistent and always have him sit or lie down before being petted.

Consistent communications and role modeling will paint a clear picture of staff expectations and accountability. Make sure to apply your standards across the board, and not just with your new hires. If you have a policy that prohibits cell phone use during meetings, but a couple of managers are constantly scrolling, you’ll have a hard time getting that message through. Be consistent and lead by example.   

4.) Maintain realistic expectations.

Older or larger dogs can’t always do what younger or smaller ones can do – and vice versa. Train at your dog’s individual learning rate and take physical and emotional abilities into account.

There’s no one breed of employee. They come in all different shapes, sizes, and learning styles. Some will pick things up very quickly while others will take a few times to get it right. Some will be comfortable throwing themselves into projects and others will need more guidance. Once you have a feel for what your employee can do, set your expectations, goals, and training schedule accordingly for maximum progress and results.

5.) Be positive and have fun.

If it’s not fun for you, it’s not fun for your dog. Punishment and aversive training methods are not necessary and do nothing to promote or foster safety, patience, kindness and compassion. Positive training methods are far less stressful for you and your dog.

If your current management style consists of barking orders and bopping people with newspapers, you’re not going to get the behaviors you want— or the employee retention you’d like. Workplace stress is one of the top causes of low employee engagement. It’s okay to set goals and work hard to achieve them, and of course there will be varying levels of intensity in every industry, but a punitive atmosphere will quickly squash enthusiasm, creativity, innovation, and trust. It’s important to maintain a positive approach— and your sense of humor.

6.) Train incrementally.

Remember this line and repeat it over and over: “If your dog won’t do what you want him to do, go back to the step where he was successful.”

Learning something new can be challenging, for both teacher and student. Don’t expect to go from zero to 100 on any given day. If you find yourself chasing your tail during training, take a break to re-focus. Establish a good baseline and build on subsequent successes. Set incremental goals and celebrate when they are achieved.

7.) Keep sessions short.

Training sessions can last from ten seconds to five minutes. That’s all you need. In fact, several two- or three-minute sessions a day are better than one or two lengthy ones. By keeping each session short, you can keep your dog highly motivated and anticipating the next one.

Five-minute training sessions! Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Of course, it will take much longer to bring a new employee up to speed, but this is still pretty good advice. The brain can only take in so much new information at once. Break up your training sessions with other activities and keep them short to save you and your employees from training overload. And don’t forget to have some fun along the way!

8.) Reinforce spontaneous behaviors.

Half of all your training will not be done in formal sessions at all. Instead, by practicing the “Magnet Game,” you can reward your dog whenever you catch her doing something you like. For example, whenever you see her sit or lie down, or pick up a toy, or look at the cat instead of chasing him, reward her. All of these unasked for behaviors can act like “magnets” that attract praise, affection and treats.

You don’t have to be in training mode to create teachable moments. When you like what you see, let your new hire know. Explain why you appreciate that behavior and how happy you are to have that person on your team. Call out and reward good behaviors in meetings to encourage more of the same. If an opportunity for informal or spontaneous training comes up, jump on it. When your new hire has a question, take a few minutes to give them the tools and information they need to handle that situation the next time it comes up.

9.) Give your dog a job to do.

If you don’t give your dog a job, she will become self-employed. Here are some of the top occupations that dogs take on:

  • Gardener – at the end of the day you come home and find your sprinkler heads and flowers torn up.
  • Official greeter – your dog jumps all over your visitors and knocks them over when they walk in the door.
  • Home decorators – you come home to find all your cushions and designer shoes chewed just the way your dog wants them.
  • Alarm system – the only problem is that you can’t turn the alarm off, except when your dog finally goes to sleep, so the neighbors can hear her barking all day and often all night.
  • Home security system – she protects the house from intruders. If she’s aggressive, poor old Uncle Bob might soon be referred to as “Lefty.”
  • Firefighter – Your dog puts out all the imaginary fires on your furniture.

The solution to all this is simple. Become your dog’s employer. Employment is important because it not only provides the stimulation that your dog needs but it also promotes and develops a sense of self, purpose, and pride.

This is too hilarious. And too true! What kinds of jobs will your team take on if you don’t set them in the right direction? Head Hall Monitor? Cake Party Captain? Official Office Critic? Employees respond to great leadership. Many of them are starving for it. Step up and give them what they need to feel good about the company they work for and the jobs they do.

10.) Ask for help.

Last, but not least, ask for help if you can’t figure out how to train your dog, especially if you don’t know how to solve a problem.

If you run into a problem you can’t solve, chances are there are plenty of experts out there willing to help. Seek out colleagues, mentors, professional consultants and/or legal counsel to learn effective ways to deal with the issues you are facing.

Training your dog is a labor of love. Why not look at your HR and leadership responsibilities in the same way? Recruiting and hiring great people is just the beginning. Developing the team, skills and environment that will allow you to reach your organizational goals takes time, energy, patience, and yes, occasional treats. But do it right and you’ll have a bunch of happy, loyal employees who greet you at the door each morning. And that’s pretty doggone cool.  

*Tips have been edited for length.

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Topics: Leadership + Management, Team Development